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An Easy Method for Mixing Acrylic Paint for Skin Tones

Whether you’re a new painter or a seasoned professional, painting skin tones in acrylic can be a daunting task. It can be tricky to attain tones that are lifelike and dimensional rather than dull and flat.

Varying SHades of Skin tone on acrylic paint palettes

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By using the simple method detailed in this tutorial, you’ll learn how to mix skin tones using different ratios of the primary colors. This easy method requires a little work to refine, but it is a fantastic and accessible method for artists of any level. With a little practice, you’ll be creating skin tones like a pro.

Getting started with skin tones

Determining skin color

The colors you select depend a great deal on the skin tone of the person you are painting. While on one level it is easy to determine if the skin is dark, medium or light, you’ll also need to consider the undertones of the skin.

For instance, you might not think of many skin tones as containing the color blue, but many do, to some degree. By really looking at the tone you’re trying to attain, you can make informed decisions about creating a skin tone in acrylic paint.

Creating a family of tones

Family of Skin Tones on Acrylic Paint Palette

It’s good to create a “family” of tones around your chosen skin tone so that you can add accents. As you can see here, the same skin tone is mixed with a little bit of blue, yellow and red in each spot of color. Save these accent colors for attaining details on the skin.

Tips for mixing acrylic paint

  1. Acrylic paint looks a little bit darker dry than when it is wet. So make the paint color slightly lighter than you’d like the final outcome to be.
  2. It can be tough to mix a specific color using acrylic paint, so if you are looking for the perfect tone for a large piece or an ongoing series, make notes of the colors that went into the mixture. Better yet, mix up a large batch of the tone in question so that you will have plenty on hand.
  3. While white paint is helpful to attain skin tones, use black paint very sparingly. Black paint can react with the yellow in skin tones to create a greenish, muddy look. If you need to make a skin tone darker, use a small amount of each primary color in equal quantity rather than adding black paint to the mix.

You can find even more tips for mixing acrylic paints for portraits right here.

How to paint skin tones in acrylic

Step 1:

Create a palette with the primary colors: yellow, blue, red. White and black are optional. Have a photograph or reference image handy for the tone you are trying to attain.

Dots of Primary Color and White Acrylic Paint

Note: Remember to be very sparing with black paint.

Step 2:

Mix together equal parts of each primary color.

Mixing Primary Colors of Acrylic PaintBrown Acrylic Paint Created With Primary Colors

Just about every skin tone contains a little yellow, blue and red, but in different ratios. Once you’ve done this a few times, you might start with more of one color or another. But to start, go ahead and mix equal parts of each color with a palette knife. Your outcome will likely be somewhat dark. This is a good thing, because in general, it’s easier to make skin tones lighter with acrylic than darker.

Step 3:

Now, it’s time to refine your color. As noted above, if you’ve mixed equal parts of each color, the blue in particular has probably made the color mix quite dark. Initial adjustments will be clear: if you need to make the skin lighter, add white and/or yellow. If you need to make it more reddish, add more red.

Refine Skin Tone Paints With Primary Colors

Once you make these obvious tweaks, you’ll have the opportunity to refine, adding a little bit of this color, a little bit of that, until you’ve attained the exact tone you’re looking for. All of the below skin tones were attained by making refinements to the initial primary color mix.

Advanced for painting flesh tones

Once you’ve mastered this method of creating skin tones, you can set yourself up like a professional painter.

Mix shadows and highlights

Once you’ve gotten the exact right skin tone, create a “family” of tones around your chosen tone. This is a time when you can use black paint to your advantage. Mix a gradient of variations on your final skin tone with black or white paint so that you have paint in various related tones ready to create shadows or highlights in your work.

Blush tones

Shades of Brown Mixed with Red Paint
If you want to create a blush tone for your skin, don’t simply use pink or red paint on top of your skin tone. Create a custom tone by creating a mixture of your skin tone plus red for a color that will look natural as a “blush” tone.

Painting skin tones in tinted light

Take the above concept a step further and create a mixture of the skin tone with each of the primary colors. While some of them might look funny on the palette, the fact is that skin you are painting may reflect the colors of the painting’s scene.

Acrylic Skin Tones Mixed with Primary Colors

For instance, if a character is standing near blue drapes, a sliver of blue may appear on the highlights or shadows on the skin. By creating these variations, you’ll be able to capture these details, which will make your final painting more lifelike.

Do you have any tips for painting skin tones in acrylic?

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35 Comments

vincent browne

I like the simple way you explain how to mix skin tones. Vincent

Reply
Ron Green

Never thought of using blue in my skin tones, looks like that’s what has been missing for me, will try it in my current portrait effort. Thanks for the tip
Ron

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Jessie Oleson Moore

Ron: Blue makes a big difference – it makes skin tones so much more lifelike. Happy painting!

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bruce

Hey any tips for l shading Chinese skin?

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Merrill

Hi, you might find using different yellow and some browns instead of black useful. It makes mixing more complex by adding another colour to the mix or swapping out the base yellow. Try yellow ochre, burnt umber, raw sienna, raw umber. Generally though using the 3 primary colours and white will make any skin colour you’re after. You might just need to alter the shade of primary, for example using naples yellow, cadmium deep yellow or even changing the red as well or instead. Phthalo red, cadmium vermillion, alizarin crimson. . I’d recommend getting a color mixing book if you’re serious about appropriate skin colours. My favourite is Color Mixing Recipes for portraits by William F.Powell.

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Julie

this is so helpful! Thank you!

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nuando instant lift

Hi, its good article regarding media print, we all know media is a wonderful source of information.

Reply
Ken

Hi thanks a lot for the skin tones

Reply
Cafe Vert Diet

I like the helpful info you supply in your articles.
I will bookmark your weblog and test once more right here regularly.

I’m quite certain I will learn a lot of new stuff
right right here! Good luck for the next!

Reply
Denniece

I used your instructions to paint the skin on a sculpture. I’m normally pretty adept at mixing colors except for skin tones. This turned out perfectly the first mix. I then took a small amount and mixed with a dab of magenta for the cheeks, chin and nose. And so on with highlights, etc. I did not mix in any black at all.
Thanks!

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Jessie Oleson Moore

Denniece: That’s awesome!!! This is how I first learned to mix colors and I find it the easiest starting point. Awesome that your first mix turned out perfectly!

Reply
Nufinity Skin

I think the admin of this web site is truly working hard in support of his web page, because here every information is
quality based stuff.

Reply
KA Johnson

This needs to be “Pinterestable.”

Reply
Shelley

Thank you for sharing!!!
~Shelley ~

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laura

This is a great help! It really helped me recreate the same skin tone later, too! That was a big problem with my last painting, but not this new one, thanks to you!

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Joanna

hello, how can you make the colors look so pale using this mixture? I have pale caucasian skin and have a very hard time finding my skin tone…

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Mima

Can I simply use brown, yellow and red?

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Christy

Thank you very much. You are very helpful! you saved my money!

Reply
Kenneth

Very helpful

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ANGELA V JOHN

Its very helpful,

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lvenkatraj@gmail.com

My Son a dance program , He has been asked to apply acrylic colour on his skin . I am not sure about this. Can you suggest please?

Reply
Susan

Great tutorial.
What is the best combination to get tanned/bronzed skin? Add more browns?

Reply
Paige

I am very happy and thankful that Google led me to this page! You answered any thoughts I had clearly and completely. I am repairing a treasured print that was damaged in transit, and now its smooth sailing for me! Thank you again 🙂

Reply
khryz wannizho

that’s really the best explanation about skin color mixing

Reply
Shep

Loving this already and found it by accident.

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Sandra

Excellent! Thank you soooo much!

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Thu Lan

i didn’t add the blue or combine RedBlueYellow until i read this post.
thanks a lots , i will try this soon.

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Andrew

The blue is interesting, will have to try it. I tend to short cut this. Raw umber, raw sienna, yellow ochre, titanium white, the occasional hint of venetian red.

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Jacqui

Best skin colour mixing instructions I have yet read!
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!! 🙂

Reply
Joy

More great information from Craftsy!

Reply
Dragon Ball fan

which of the primary colors are more prominent in goku’s skin?

Reply
yeet

I would say yellow and blue.

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April Cranmer

Thank you for explaining skin tones. Years ago my mom has told me but I couldn’t remember after all these years. She was a great artist, I wish I had half her skills.

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Ashley

Wow! This step by step guide was explained so simply! I can’t wait to try it out. I’ve been painting portraits in black and white to avoid the hassle of trying to figure out how to make skin tones! Loooool

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elisabeth

I’m not an artist (though I wish I was!). However, I am taking a child development diversity class and I LOVE this article, thank you so much! I would like to teach in public preschools where there are a diversity of children (at least in my neighborhood) and I love knowing that I can mix up paint colors that will help children recreate themselves and their families in a way that is more accurate than just dark or light. Plus, how neat that the primary colors can get the job done! Hopefully this works with the non-toxic child friendly paints, too 🙂 .

P.S. Isn’t it funny that with all the racial fighting in our nation right now, most people are a mix of the SAME colors? Life is strange.

Reply

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